Within minutes of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Internet was carrying all kinds of speculation about who was responsible. The right wing points at the government, the left wing points at the Tea Party, everyone points at Islamic radicals. Or maybe, after all, it will turn out to be some disaffected teenager who wants to amp up the school-shootings scenario.

Does it matter? Really?

We live in a world in which certain people think they can get what they want by inflicting violence, or the fear of violence, on others.  (Humans have almost certainly always lived in such a world, but today we have instant access to reports of it from all over the globe.) From the mother who threatens to spank her kid if the kid isn’t in bed in thirty seconds to Kim Jong-un threatening the world with unspecified retaliation for unspecified wrongs, from the husband who beats his wife because dinner isn’t ready at the right time to those who kill randomly in acts of terrorism for whatever cause they favor, some humans use the threat of violence or the act of it to try to force others to their will.

Does it matter why they do it? The dead are just as dead, the maimed just as maimed, the terrorized just as terrorized. And for those in that last category, does it even matter whether the threat is carried through? Is it worse to go through a terrorizing experience than to live with it hanging over one’s head?

Of course people think it matters. Most people who do violence or threaten violence to get what they want probably think that their use is justified, or at least excusable under whatever circumstances exist. But onlookers, bystanders, seem to think it matters, too.

But does it? Really?

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